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NDP Leader Tom Mulcair addresses supporters during a campaign stop in Montreal on Oct. 1, 2015. The immediate imperative for Mr. Mulcair is to stop the bleeding in Quebec, where the party’s double-digit lead over the nearest party has eroded.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

They won't quite admit it, as they try to play down their precipitous drop in the polls. But talking this week to New Democrats working on their party's national campaign, it is clear they believe salvaging what was once an enormously promising chance at winning power will require a more energetic and aggressive effort than the one they have run so far.

As they break away from the cautious manner of campaigning that appeared to assume front-runner status, or at least a comfortable advantage over Justin Trudeau's Liberals as the favoured alternative to Stephen Harper's Conservatives, here are some of the strategic and tactical efforts Canadians can expect to see from Thomas Mulcair's party in the election's final 2 1/2 weeks.

A combative debate performance

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The immediate imperative for Mr. Mulcair is to stop the bleeding in Quebec, where the NDP's double-digit lead over the nearest party has eroded.

His imminent make-or-break opportunity is Friday's French-language debate – the final time the leaders will converge on stage this campaign, and possibly the most-viewed such event because it will be on Quebec's popular TVA network. (Also crucial: an appearance on the highly influential TV show Tout ‎Le Monde En Parle, to air on Sunday.)

There is never any way to know how politicians will perform under that kind of pressure.

But Mr. Mulcair will likely display a more fiery demeanour than in some of the other debates so far. While the NDP tried to get away from the "Angry Tom" image earlier in the race, many members of his campaign team now say they think that worry was overblown, and that he's better to be passionate than overly calm.

Beyond tone, Mr. Mulcair seems set to adjust his debate message.

Needing to shift focus away from the firestorm around the niqab, which has played a big part in the NDP's recent troubles, Mr. Mulcair will spend more time attacking Mr. Harper's economic and ethical record in hope of refocusing Quebeckers on replacing a prime minister most of them don't like.

A post-debate bounce of even a few percentage points in Quebec would go a long way toward helping perceived competitiveness nationally. Any more slippage there, and the party's national numbers could slide to the point where the rest of the NDP's strategy becomes moot.

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A busier tour schedule

This Sunday, Mr. Mulcair will conduct a "whistle stop" tour of Southwestern Ontario, appearing in six ridings in a region where the NDP needs to break through. That seems partly a defensive move, countering the Liberals' hope of projecting momentum the same day with a Toronto-area rally that will be the campaign's biggest event staged by any party so far. But the accelerated pace – if not quite that accelerated – will continue thereafter.

Under different circumstances, the NDP might not have intensified their efforts that much until the campaign's final week. But competing for votes with a rival opposition leader using youthful energy to his advantage, Mr. Mulcair has obvious incentive to show some extra vigour of his own.

Attack ads

In hindsight, it might have been a mistake for the NDP to avoid advertising much during the campaign's first month, since big Liberal ad buys during that period helped erase the NDP's edge. But backloading its spending means Mr. Mulcair's party will now be all over the airwaves, especially with the NDP claiming to have raised $9-million in the past three months alone.

The NDP's hope was probably to seal the deal with positive spots featuring Mr. Mulcair. Under the circumstances, it's going heavy with attack ads. In English Canada, that includes a trio of radio commercials that take aim at Mr. Trudeau for his past acceptance of speaking fees, his support for Bill C-51 and (in the aforementioned Southwestern Ontario market) his party's views on the auto sector.

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Quebeckers are likelier to see or hear scandal-focused attacks on the Tories, which to some extent are running in the rest of the country as well.

A strategic voting pitch

At the doors, over the phones and digitally, the New Democrats are stepping up attempts to convince voters they have a better chance than the Liberals of beating the Conservatives.

Broadly, that means highlighting that because they entered the campaign with nearly three times as many seats as Mr. Trudeau's party, they have an easier path to power. And in some ridings, it means making the case (based on last election's results or current polling) that they're close enough to ousting Conservative incumbents that a few hundred would-be Liberal votes could make the difference.

The NDP's hope is to pivot even more to this message in the campaign's final week, including through advertising. Whether it's able to credibly make its strategic-voting case will depend on how its other strategic gambits pan out.

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